It is a useful strategy to repel invaders and enemies by mesmerizing them.
When bees all buzz in unison, they can create a cascading ripple effect that shimmers and impresses observers. For creatures that perhaps do not have the best interests of the bees at heart, it can be a warning, or such an overwhelming and intimidating presence, that potential enemies back off and stay away.
Synchronized buzzing puts all the bees in the group on the same wavelength, as they flick their abdomens, creating a united force field that is both protective and repelling.
In this 2:00-minute video by BBC Earth, we see the power concentrated in the rippling bee shimmer…
The bees in this video are the docile and wild South-East Asian giant honeybees (Apis dorsata) that were the focus of the PLoS ONE study performed by Gerald Kastberger and colleagues. They focused on the shimmering behavior of these giant honeybees that is reminiscent of the contagious Mexican waves seen in football and sports stadiums. The wild bees perform this intriguing action at their nest to protect it from predators like hornets and wasps.
The flicking of their bodies as if in a choreographed dance move creates shimmering waves that repels the hovering hornets and causes them to disburse. It is an extremely successful non-violent defense. The highly successful coordination of hundreds of hive members aligning rapidly displays remarkable skill, instinct, cooperation, and the capacity for blitz fast communication within their society. They are unique in the entire animal kingdom.
As was scientifically observed, two potential audiences are addressed when a giant honeybee hive shimmers. First, the hive-mates themselves, that must quickly drop what they are doing and coordinate themselves to join the shimmer activity, and this can arouse or alarm them, according to the scientists. The study authors remarked that the bee group assembled in dense networks of a “bee curtain” on both sides of the comb. They produce and receive a constant stream of information about the state of the colony that includes its day-to-day foraging, reproduction, reorganization, and defensive actions, the last of which includes shimmering. The second audience consists of potential predators. These may be mammals or wasps, and these are targeted and believed to be influenced by the dynamic visual cues of shimmering.
For humans who mean no harm to honeybees, this is simply another amazing insight into the intelligent, coordinated, and unified life of bees in a hive and the beauty they bring to this world. We covered this phenomenon once before, but one never tires of watching bees in action as they outsmart hornets. The scientific study can be read here.